I used to always think, “I already know what I’m gonna learn if I work for a shelter or charity: be thankful for what you have, other people have it worse than you, etc…” But, I learned way more than just that when I spent 3 weeks working in Winnipeg this summer.
I worked for Centre Flavie-Laurent – a free, second-hand store that offers everything from furniture to nonperishable food items for people in need. I didn’t really know how to put my thoughts into words about my experience there when I got back to Toronto. You know when you want to write about something/want to do something but you gotta do it well so you never get to it? Ya. They call that a procrastinating perfectionist.
But thanks to CTV News Winnipeg, their morning news broadcast motivated me to talk about my experience since they saved me the trouble of explaining everything the organization stands for. Not that I don’t want to explain it myself, it’s just cooler to see it on video and this post will prolly already be long enough.
Check it out here. I lowkey fan-girled when I spotted my supervisor, Denise in the video. She’s genuinely one of the most incredible, hardworking, and selfless people I’ve ever met. Look at this cake she bought us after supervising us for just 3 weeks!?!
So under her supervision, my average 9am-4pm day at the store looked something like this:
- Organizing clothes into sections depending on age, gender, size, colour, and even season. Hanging them up/putting them in crates. Then collecting the hangers.
- Sorting cassette tapes and other small things you didn’t think existed anymore.
- Emptying/filling trucks with boxes and clothes. (Sometimes even furniture)
- Sorting elastics by colour and size.
- Cleaning shelves.
- You name it.
3 weeks of that taught me this:
- Do the gruesome work if you want to make a difference. Looking through a bag of a dead man’s old clothes is not how you’d typically like to spend a Friday, sure. But knowing it’s going to make a difference in the life of somebody who has little to nothing to keep them warm in the winter makes up for it.
- Charity is therapy. Most of the jobs we did were therapeutic because I’m that type of person. Organizing elastics was exactly what I needed to do to get my mind off the fact that I was going to go back home in less than a week.
- If you wouldn’t wear the shirt because it’s too dirty/worn out or if your pants are ripped up in a not-so-trendy type of way, don’t donate it. What makes you think somebody else will wear it? They have just as much value as a human being as you do. (*I was guilty of doing this before – I would just put everything I didn’t want anymore in a bag and send it off to Value Village. I wasn’t donating to give, I was donating to get rid of. It was degrading.)
- Knowing more than one language is life-changing. One time, I got to communicate with people in three languages all in a matter of 10 minutes – coolest experience ever. It just makes you think, if you weren’t there and if nobody else knew their language, they wouldn’t have received the help they needed that day.
- Older folks make the best of friends. I can’t even explain this one because there’s too many stories. All I have to say is that Marcel was my bff and I’ll be sending him a postcard soon.
- Not everybody is going to be honest about their needs. Help them anyway.
- The less fortunate are usually the most grateful. I met people who had nothing, not even a roof over their heads – and do you have any idea how cold it gets in Winnipeg? This woman literally came in looking for a plastic sheet because she said she lives by the lake. Literally. By. The. Lake. And she needed something to cover her when it rained… We didn’t have anything but, she couldn’t stop thanking us for trying to help anyway.
- You learn more about yourself by learning about others. I met this wiser man who shook my hand firmly when he found out I was originally born in Iraq. Looking deep into my soul while holding onto my hand he said, “We are praying for your people.” My supervisor came up to me the next day and said, “Amanda, my friend you met yesterday wanted me to tell you he says hi and that he is impressed with what you are doing.”
My dayMy life was made. I never understood why being originally Iraqi was such a big deal in the Western world but after that encounter I suddenly knew more about my roots than I did before.
- An obvious one: You become thankful for the little things. Our co-worker came up to us one morning and gave us $20 to get some dinner for ourselves that night after he asked how we were feeding ourselves for the 3 weeks. That’s never happened to me before (except for when my grandma does it, but she’s just blood!) The man was probably in his 60s, but I guess no matter what your age you’ll always empathize with that student budget life.
I can tell you allllll about my experiences at this place but nobody ever really grasps a lesson just by reading the textbook – it’s all about that inspiration through application. Volunteer for as little as 3 weeks, your future-self will thank you.